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At COP26, talks abound of nuclear plants as big as Plant Vogtle

Plant Vogtle, Unit 4, October 2021. (Photo from georgiapower.com, copyright, all rights reserved)

By David Pendered

Discussion of nuclear power generated by facilities such as Plant Vogtle appears to be surging at COP26, the United Nations climate summit in Scotland.

The U.S. does not intend to join China, India and about 17 other countries in expanding nuclear capacity as a strategy to reduce carbon emissions from power generation. China alone has announced plans for completion by 2035 of more than 150 nuclear reactors priced at a total of up to $440 billion.

Nearly 40 reactors due to come online around the world by 2027 are close to the size of each of the two reactors at Plant Vogtle, according to a report this month by the nuclear trade organization World Nuclear Association.

The White House energy policy, announced Nov. 1, calls for modest growth for nuclear and sizable growth for renewables through 2050. Electricity generated by fossil fuel, with carbon-capture and storage, is to expand more than nuclear. News of the report was overwhelmed by other events.

The market is responding to the nuclear conversation in Glasgow.

Share prices for one uranium provider, Texas-based Uranium Energy Corp., have surged 27 percent since Nov. 2. Shares closed at $5.28 on Tuesday, giving the company a market value of nearly $1.2 billion. The share price was $1.84 on Jan. 4, according to the The Wall Street Journal.

Former U.S. Energy Secretary Spenser Abraham serves as non-executive chairman of Uranium Energy. The company’s CEO and president said in an Oct. 28 statement the company is “the leading U.S. based uranium company amid a new era of public, government and scientific support for nuclear energy, essential to a low-carbon global economy.”

In Glasgow, nation-states seem unable to reach agreements to address global warming by the levels defined in the Paris Climate Accords, adopted in 2015. The nuclear conversation continues.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an interview with CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick that nuclear is a proven energy source with pricing more stable than alternatives such as natural gas. IAEA is in the U.N. system and promotes the U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“The reality is that many countries, the confirmed nuclear users, so to speak, but many more nations in the global South, in the developing world, are looking into nuclear because nuclear is CO₂-emission free,” Grossi said. “It is flexible. It gives your energy mix stability, which is quite crucial at times like this. You see what’s happening with the price of [natural] gas and other things. So, nuclear is playing a role and will continue doing so. Hence, my presence here at COP26.”

Plant Vogtle is portrayed by some in the nuclear field as the last of the world’s big nuclear reactors.

Research by MIT’s Jacopo Buongiorno points toward a future market favoring smaller reactors than Plant Vogtle and its generation. Some smaller reactors could be factory-built to standards that minimize the potential for the types of cost overruns and delays that have plagued Plant Vogtle. Buongiorno has spoken to the media several times during the climate conference.

The World Nuclear Association’s report shows many nuclear facilities now under construction are to provide capacity as large, or larger, than Plant Vogtle. The combined output of two planned reactors in Southwest England, the Hinkley Point facilities located across the Severn River from Cardiff, are to produce a third more power than the total expected from the two new reactors at Plant Vogtle.

For its part, Georgia Power says the two nuclear units being installed at Plant Vogtle will provide power for up to 80 years, spokesman John Kraft wrote Tuesday in response to a question.

“The new Vogtle nuclear units are an essential part of Georgia Power’s commitment to deliver safe, clean, reliable and affordable energy, and are expected to provide customers with a reliable, carbon-free energy source for the next 60 to 80 years,” Kraft wrote. “Working with the PSC, Georgia Power has reduced its carbon emissions by more than 60 percent through 2020. Through the 2022 IRP process, the company will continue to work with the Commission to make smart investments for Georgia’s energy future.”

 

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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